Things people say- Unusual requests and strange questions patients have presented over the years

Written by Heather Siler

Being a Dental Hygienist for nearly thirty years has afforded me many encounters with patients which can be awkward from time to time. Following are some of the most unusual requests and questions I’ve witnessed over the years.

  • Do you clean the instruments between patients? The answer is a resounding YES! Instruments are carefully transported to the sterilization area where they are placed in an ultrasonic cleaning device with an enzymatic cleaner. The ultrasonic action removes any debris on the instruments considering debris must be dislodged before the instruments can be sterilized The instruments are then placed in an autoclave where they are sterilized by pressurized steam.
  • Upon entering the operatory, I’ve had patients request: no x-rays, no scaling, no polishing, and no flossing. What??? My sarcastic self wants to ask why they’ve come in for an appointment. Instead, I regain my composure and ask why they are refusing the proposed treatment. If I identify what exactly they fear or dread, I can explain why each step of the appointment is necessary, and some parts of the procedure can sometimes be shortened while still providing thorough treatment.
  • I can’t lean back at all, so you’ll have to stand to clean my teeth. Again, my sarcastic self wants to tell them that it’s fine and I’ll stand on my head. After a few deep breaths, I inquire as to why they have to sit upright. There certainly are instances where a patient can’t lie flat, and that’s respected and honored. For the most part, if it isn’t a legitimate request, the reason for not wanting to lean back is fear and loss of control. Simply explaining to the patient that they are one of many patients treated daily and trying to treat them while they sit fully upright is detrimental to my long-term health. Some clinicians prefer to stand while providing treatment, but the patient is reclined. Treating patients fully upright can contribute to Musculoskeletal Disorders and end your career.
  • I just want a cleaning today. I don’t need to see the doctor- In most states, an examination by the doctor after a prophylaxis is the law. There are some states in which hygienists can open their own practice without a dentist ever being present. Also, some states allow for a patient of record to be seen without a dentist being present if they have received an exam within 12 months and are appointed for a regular prophy. For the most part, the patient must be examined by the doctor.

Some other funny things patients have said:

  • Upon handing the patient a sealed lip blam to use during the appointment they, in turn, ask me if I give the same one to the next patient. I smile and say, “No, this one is special for you to take home.”
  • “Where does the stuff go that you suction out of my mouth?” After a chuckle, I inform them that the “stuff” first goes through a filtration and separation system and the remainder goes down the drain just like it does at home when spitting in the sink.

 Patients can be the source of some unusual requests and questions, but it certainly makes the office more fun. Oh well, it’s all in a days work.